Noticing differences between people
What if my partner compares me to somebody else?
I’m thinking about becoming polyamorous. But what if my partner compares me to his or her other partners?
That’s a question I hear often. Not quite as often as “How do you decide who’s sleeping with whom?” or “Don’t you get jealous?” But it’s common for people to ask me “What if he compares me to somebody else? What if he has two lovers, and he compares me to her?”
And, honestly, I think that’s a good thing. I want my lovers to compare me to their other lovers, for reasons I’ll get to in a minute. But first, let’s unpack the question a bit.
The question assumes quite a bit of subtext. When someone asks me “What if he compares me to his other lover,” the subtext I see inside the question is the assumption that such a comparison would go badly. Presumably, a person who believes himself or herself to be absolutely the bee’s knees wouldn’t approach being compared with other folks with fear and trepidation.
So I think the question “What if he compares me to his other lover?” has an implicit “…because she must be better than I am, and so if he does that, he’ll realize that I’m a loser” attached to the end.
Which is, I think, simply insecurity at work. Insecurity is a good news/bad news kind of thing; the good news is that insecurity is really not that hard to beat; with practice, I think that just about anyone can learn the habits of security. The bad news, naturally, is that the process of letting go of insecurity is scary and uncomfortable, and the discomfort can sometimes seem worse than the insecurity itself.
All that aside, though, it definitely seems to me that a person won’t fear being compared to other people unless there’s some kind of voice somewhere in the background of that person’s head telling him that the comparison is apt to end badly.
There’s an irony, in that the fear of being compared to someone else can actually mask a great source of security. And that security comes from knowing that you, and everyone around you, is unique and therefore irreplaceable.
When my partners compare me to their partners, they’ll probably notice similarities (I tend to have a taste for women who like geeky gamer poly guys, so they’ll probably have other partners who are geeky poly gamer guys), and they’ll notice differences. And the differences are what make us individuals, rather than interchangeable commodities.
I think the question “What if he compares me to others?” assumes, in addition to a presumption that the comparison will end badly, the notion that such a comparison would reveal which one is “best.” ‘Cause, you know, if Joe thinks that Cathy is best and Jane is second-best, then Joe would naturally prefer Cathy to Jane, right?
And who knows? Maybe there are some folks out there who would do something like that—evaluate their partners to find out which one is “best,” then stay with that person ’til someone better came along. Now, personally, I think folks like that can be spotted pretty easily. I also think if I am with a person like that, I’d want to know about it as soon as possible so that I could dump their sorry ass and find a partner who actually wanted to be with me because they value me.
But I also have seen people stay with partners who don’t appear to like them very much because they believe that if they leave, they’ll never find another partner again as long as they live and will be doomed to a solitary life forever and ever, amen—so they gotta take, and try to keep, what they can get.
Which brings us, of course, right back around to insecurity again.
Now, my partners are about as different from one another as you could possibly imagine. They all have some things in common, of course—they’re all women, for one. They’re all unusually intelligent, for another. And they’re all polyamorous; my days of dating monogamous partners are over.
But other than that, they’re very different from one another—physically, psychologically, philosophically, practically. And when I spend time with my partners, yes, I notice the differences.
It would be impossible not to. I have one partner who’s very tall and one partner’s very short. It’d be well-nigh impossible not to notice that I have to stand on tiptoes to kiss my tall partner and look down to kiss my short partner. Similarly, when I sleep next to my sweeties, my arm wraps around each one differently.
And in terms of personality, my partners are even more varied than they are physically. Some of my sweeties are extroverted; others are introverted. One loves sushi; two others don’t eat seafood at all. One of my partners is a math geek; another loves sports cars. Some of my partners are prone to cynicism; others are optimists. And yes, I notice these differences. It would be impossible not to. In fact, I cherish these differences, because every one of them is what makes each of the people who has blessed me by being part of my life unique.
And isn’t that the point?
When you compare your lovers, when you notice the similarities and differences between your lovers—this is a necessary and inevitable consequence of seeing your lovers. Not as faceless, interchangeable units, but as human beings. You cannot know a person, not in any meaningful way, without noticing those things that make that person unique.
It’s not about comparing them on a stepladder to figure out which one is “best”—lessee, this person gets four points for loving dogs, ’cause dogs are cool; that person gets six bonus points because she hates the novel Stranger in a Strange Land, and I don’t like it either—and the one with the most points wins.
Instead, it’s about seeing each of my partners for exactly who she is. When you do that, you see that each person is someone who adds value to your life—value that any other person can’t.
And that, to me, is awesome.